Disney has dominated the box office for years, but experts say it will face challenges to its crown in 2020
- Disney is on a four-year win streak at the domestic box office and has especially dominated the box office the last two years with record-breaking totals.
- But Disney's 2020 release slate may not be strong enough to match the high bar it's set and other studios could swoop in to top the Mouse House for the first time in five years.
- Universal has surpassed Disney this year in the number of movies to win the domestic box office in their opening weekends with a mix of well-marketed original movies and franchise entries, which could be a model for other studios moving forward.
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Disney is on its way to winning the domestic box office for the fourth straight year, but its reign could be in jeopardy in 2020.
That doesn't mean the Mouse House doesn't have a stacked release schedule. It still controls some of the most popular entertainment assets of all time and is in a solid position to rule Hollywood for the next decade with more Marvel, "Star Wars," and after the Fox merger, "Avatar" movies. But after its unprecedented domination in 2019 (it's made up nearly 38% of the domestic box office so far), Disney could face actual competition next year.
"This year has been so strong for Disney that it was hard [for other studios] to find holes in the calendar," Paul Dergarabedian, the Comscore senior media analyst, told Business Insider. "Next year is more wide open for the rival studios and they'll share the wealth more evenly. Disney will still be a major factor in 2020, but it will be a great year for studios to present a diversity of content."
Disney's 2020 release slate isn't as strong as the last 2 years
Disney ruled 2018 with blockbusters like "Black Panther," "Avengers: Infinity War," and "Incredibles 2," setting a domestic box-office record with $3 billion and topping $7 billion globally for the second time in the studio's history (it first did so in 2016).
It outdid itself on every front this year.
Disney had broken its own annual global box-office record by July with $7.67 billion thanks to mega hits that all crossed $1 billion worldwide: "The Lion King," "Captain Marvel," "Toy Story 4," "Aladdin," and "Avengers: Endgame," which passed "Avatar" to become the biggest movie of all time. And Disney has yet to release "Frozen 2" and "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," which will both likely gross over $1 billion by year's end.
2019 will be tough to top and Disney's 2020 release slate, while strong, may not have what it takes.
"Disney's lineup this year was like the all-star team of movie slates," Dergarabedian said. "To me, 2019 is such an anomaly."
Some of Disney's biggest releases next year are below:
- Pixar's "Onward" and "Soul" come to theaters March 6 and June 19, respectively.
- Disney's live-action remake of "Mulan" arrives on March 27.
- Marvel's "Black Widow," starring Scarlett Johansson, hits theaters on May 1 and "Eternals" arrives November 6.
- "Artemis Fowl," based on the sci-fi series of novels by Eoin Colfer, premieres May 29.
- "Jungle Cruise," based on the Disneyland ride and starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Emily Blunt, debuts July 24.
Jeff Bock, the Exhibitor Relations senior box-office analyst, told Business Insider that Disney will have released all sequels and remakes from "Captain Marvel" (in March of 2019) to "Onward" (in March of 2020). But in 2020, there is no "Avengers" movies on the docket. The Pixar releases aren't anticipated sequels. And a "Star Wars" entry isn't on the schedule for another three years.
"Those [movies] resonate with people," Bock said. "Those are all very derivative of Disney's biggest hits or are blatant outright cash grabs. Disney can't expect to compete with themselves when they have a year like this. We've never seen something like this and we won't see it next year. You could look at Disney's 2019 schedule and say 'that's a slam dunk.' You can't say that for 2020."
Other studios could give Disney a run for its money
The last movie studio to beat Disney at the domestic box office was Universal in 2015. The studio is in a distant second place this year, as Disney has made up nearly 38% of the domestic market share (including Fox releases) and Universal is at 13.6%.
But the studio is beating Disney in one significant area and it could be a roadmap for other studios heading into 2020. The animated movie "Abominable" topped the box office over the weekend, passing Disney for the most movies to win the domestic box office in 2019 with eight (counting Focus Features' "Downton Abbey").
"Universal has cracked the code of creating original films that are marketed and released perfectly to great effect," Dergarabedian said. "We live in such a franchise-driven world that for Universal to create original content that transcends that is impressive, and audiences are responding to that. You can't have franchise burnout if you're making original movies."
He added, "The model that Universal is using, every studio is aspiring to do something like that."
The production company Blumhouse, responsible for successful small-budget horror movies like last year's "Halloween" and Jordan Peele's "Get Out," has a first-look deal with Universal. And Peele's own production company, Monkeypaw Productions, signed a five-year exclusive deal with the studio this week.
Some of Universal's biggest theatrical releases next year include the following:
- Blumhouse's "The Invisible Man" remake arrives February 28.
- The ninth "Fast and Furious" installment starts in theaters on May 22.
- Dreamworks' "Minions: The Rise of Gru" opens on July 3.
- "Halloween Kills," the sequel to Blumhouse's 2018 "Halloween," hits theaters October 16.
Bock gives Universal and Warner Bros. the best chance in 2020 when it comes to competing with, and possibly taking down, Disney.
"Warner Bros. has had an off year," Bock said. "But when you fall down, it's about how you get back up."
Warner Bros. has had more misfires than hits this year. Its summer tentpole, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters," significantly underperformed compared to its predecessor, 2014's "Godzilla." And it released some of the biggest flops of the year with "The Kitchen" and "The Goldfinch."
But next year is looking up with "Wonder Woman 1984," Christopher Nolan's "Tenet," and the third "Conjuring" movie.
Bock said that a more even distribution between studios at the box office next year will be good for the industry. But that may not last.
The long-awaited "Avatar" sequel hits theaters in 2021 and the franchise is now under Disney after the Fox merger. After that, an "Avatar" and "Star Wars" movie will be released in alternating years through 2027.
"If you look at the next five to 10 years, it's still Disney's game," Bock said. "But hopefully that gives the other studios time to recalibrate. Diversity [at the movies] is a benefit for all audiences."